Is that even possible!?
How could a small activity, done every day affect your life?
Of course, dental hygiene gives your pearly whites the health needed to articulate words, chew food and smile. Brushing your teeth and flossing several times a day also saves time, money and inconvenience from needless dental appointments. And this is just one tiny daily habit!
But it took some doing to develop this habit. One that began well before you blew out your 1st birthday candle (or slathered the frosting through your hair). You most likely had a caregiver cleaning your little chicklet teeth. Then you graduated into having your own miniature toothbrush and flavored toothpaste. Maybe you had a little plastic cup to rinse your mouth with. You may have had some sort of stepping stool to raise you up to the gigantic sink basin. It was probably a stretch to even reach the faucet handles. Solidifying this small, daily habit took time, tools and tenacity. Now, this habit is so ingrained that you rarely think about it. Or if you do, it’s probably because you realize you haven’t brushed your teeth! What other daily habits do you have that benefit you? Some habits are formed based on necessity, such as walking your dog. Other habits are based on enjoyment, such as a hobby. Still, others could be from a desire to be successful, wanting to be healthier or learning a new skill.
Regardless of what habit you want to cultivate, it takes time, patience, willingness to develop a skill, and stretching yourself a bit – just as you did when reaching for the water faucet handle as a toddler.
How long does it take to create a new habit?
As you might assume, this depends on the motivation, environment, availability of support, knowledge and tools, and the reward mechanism.
Ann Graybiel of MIT’s McGovern Institute has shown through research that neurons change their firing patterns when habits are learned, and then change them again when unlearned. However, as soon as something kicks back in the habit, they are fired back up. That is why it is so easy to pick back up negative addictions like smoking and drinking, but also why if you establish good habits but lose them, you can kick them back up much easier as well.
Most research indicates that it takes between 21-66 days to change or create a new habit. Recently, studies show if you can do something 66 days in a row, you will continue this habit for the year and perhaps beyond.
The 3 R’s of Creating a Habit
- What is the trigger or Reminder that you can associate your desired habit to?
- What is the action or habit you will take to establish a Routine of this habit?
- What will be your Reward or benefit from partaking in that action?
Think of something you have been considering or contemplating on how to better yourself.
Let’s go a step further and identify this as a self-care strategy. After all, if you want to better yourself, the underlying premise is that you care about yourself in some way. This core self efficacy is what will sustain you while building the habit. So, what little habit or self-care practice is calling to you? What would you like to apply this article to? And what is your WHY? What is the core motivation that will see you through when the “going gets tough”? Here’s a formula to stick on your bathroom mirror for the next 66 days, which is the number of days it takes to form a habit long term. Y>X
Translation: Your whY must be GREATER than your eXecuses.
Brushing Teeth Tree Pose
Circling back to the dental hygiene example, I will give you an example of how I created a new habit using the 3 R’s.
- Due to time constraints, I wasn’t practicing yoga like I had been in the past and was missing this in my life. I had been contemplating; how might I incorporate poses (asanas) “off the mat” and into my daily activities instead.
- My motivation was how good I felt when practicing yoga and wanting to experience more of this, as well as the myriad of benefits associated with yoga. Feeling good was my Reward.
- I decided on Tree Pose (Vrksasana) as I wanted to maintain my function of balance. The Routine I chose to incorporate Vrksasana was brushing my teeth. Heck! I’m just standing in front of the mirror doing the same healthy self-care habit I’ve been doing since a toddler – why not shake things up!
- Yet, I needed a Reminder, since I didn’t trust my half-awake brain to be on board first thing the next morning, or the next, or 64 mornings thereafter. I drew a stick figure of tree pose on a piece of paper and stuck it on my bathroom mirror. Wa-Lah! No expense, No equipment, No extra time required. I was well on my way.
Creating a Morning Ritual
Because I believe I should write about what I know about, I am happy to report that today marked Day 51 of brushing my teeth on one leg (flamingo pose is next! yes, there is such a pose). I even challenged a 60 year-old habit and switched the toothbrush to my opposite hand when I changed legs for tree pose. Switching to my non-dominate hand is benefitting my brain neurology, which is a bonus I didn’t consider initially. I’m actually now able to manage the toothbrush in my non-dominate hand and keep it in my mouth too! Again, no extra time required, no special equipment and no expense, except my own humility.
Back Sliding on Good Habits
Speaking of humility, I had to travel out of town last week and spent the night at a friend’s home. The next morning when I was brushing my teeth, something felt “off”. What was it? Sure, the bathroom was different, but my nervous system was sending signals. Then in a flash, I realized I was back to my old ways. Fortunately, I caught the back slide just in time and redeemed myself.
After a solid, consistent six weeks of Brushing Teeth Tree Pose it wasn’t enough to be automatic. The different environment without my stick-figure sticky note as a Reminder nearly destroyed my track record. With that being said, I suggest we all be kind and caring while forming new habits and self-care rituals.
The research doesn’t state whether you have to start over in counting the habit-forming days if you back slide. Therefore, I relay back to the toddler we once were, trying to learn how to take care of our bodies with toothbrushes and spoons, shoelaces and wash cloths. Let’s be gentle and compassionate, with a little humor and silliness as we create new self-care habits.
Please share what Self-Care, Healthy Habit you plan to create and your big “Y”.
Barbara Badolati, founder of BeWell Retreats has been a key player in the evolution of wellness since 1986. Her dedication to this field has included creating corporate wellness cultures, opening several yoga studios, providing health and life coaching for individuals, and leading worldwide retreats. The foundation of her work is to empower the individual toward greater health and well-being through lifestyle, mindset, movement and meditation. You can experience all of this and more through her virtual retreats and classes at BeWellRetreats.com
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